Indigo Dreaming

The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

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Archive for September 17th, 2008

Escape from Sharpness (3)

Posted by indigodream on 17 September, 2008

View back to Portishead Marina

View back to Portishead Marina

As I mentioned in the last post, we spent a very convivial afternoon in Portishead marina but our adventure was only halfway through – we still had the tidal Avon ahead of us.

I can’t say I was sorry to be moving on. While Portishead Marina is lovely, the town itself is a mess – the whole area round the marina is in the process of being developed into horrible high-density housing. The bit that’s been completed has brand-new 10-storey rabbit hutches with narrow windy streets and only 2 visitor parking bays!

We had two main objectives for the afternoon – walk the dogs to exhaustion so we’d have a quiet trip upriver and fix the VHF aerial. We found some good dog-walking on some scrubby ground behind

Big lock!

Big lock!

the marina. There we met two greyhounds and a lurcher – they were utterly gorgeous and totally well-behaved. I got a chance to give them a big fuss while our two ran away after some creature or other in the undergrowth. Objective 1 achieved!

Our VHF aerial was erratic (mainly because of a dodgy connection) but unfortunately the local chandlery didn’t have the right bits to fix it. Fortunately for us, the marina office couldn’t have been more helpful. They got in touch with Bristol VTS on our behalf. They also gave us lots of hints for the journey and recommended that we locked out of the marina at 5pm. The berthing manager at the marina (which was all yachts and us!) has a narrowboat and that may have made him particularly sensitive to our needs.

I'm so handsome!

I'm so handsome!

I’d already looked down into the lock at low tide – it is so deep. No, deeper than that! I started the whole ‘getting scared’ process there and then. The only reassuring thing is that by the time we got into the lock the tide was rising and the drop wasn’t quite so acute. One great feature in the lock is that you tie your boat to proper mooring pontoons that move down with you. This means that you miss out on all the turbulence and movement that you get in a conventional lock. Nonethless, I was still startled when the gates jerked open – just a little bit – in order to let the water out of the lock – I’d feel safer with paddles myself!

I was happier once we’d secured Blue & Lou in their life jackets. Lou wasn’t bothered and went straight back to bed – “warmer than PJs” was her verdict later. Blue strutted around on deck for large parts of the

Can I go back to bed now?

Can I go back to bed now?

trip – “Look at me I’m so handsome” was his opinion!

When the lock opened, oh my goodness, what a view. There was the sea in front of us (ok, the estuary but I challenge you to tell the difference when your small boat is as insignificant as a hair in a bathtub!) I was sort of ok with it until we got out past the headland then the sheer scale of the water struck me. I was alternately completely awed then totally disorientated. This is why I let Richard do the driving. On the tidal Thames I really like being on the helm but I know what I’m doing there! This was something else again. There’s no boundaries somehow and I had no sense of where were were on the water or where we were going. Fortunately Richard kept his head, though he’d done a recce of the turn into Avonmouth on his way down. When I said to him “are you honestly telling me you weren’t even a bit scared on the way down” he answered, wryly, “I couldn’t see this big expanse on the way down or I might have been””

Although we knew that Portishead had told Bristol VTS about our transit plans, we rang them anyway

The mighty Severn estuary

The mighty Severn estuary

and got the news that there no-one coming out from Portbury or Avonmouth so Richard hit the gas and enjoyed.

Note: If you’re going from Portishead to Avonmouth to get up the Avon stay near to the shore but DO NOT, on any account, cut the corner into Avonmouth. There’s a very large mudbank on the south side which has grounded many an unwary boater.

The mudbank was very easy to spot early in the rising tide though I did wonder whether it was submerged at high tide. As you go up the Severn from Portishead you’ll see the huge lock gates at the entrance to Portbury Dock. Don’t turn there – the entrance to Avonmouth is between the 2 piers with white lighthouses on top, one large and one

Headfor this lighthouse and turn just before it.

Head for the (smaller) lighthouse and turn just before it.

small,don’t turn in there. To turn into the Avon you leave the small lighthouse on your left and the mud bank and Portbury on your right. Remember, keep going until you’re virtually on the Avonmouth pierhead opposite the mudbank then turn into the Avon.

You’ll get a rough chart showing you what to do, but if you’re not sure then talk it through with the Portishead lock-keepers or employ a Bristol pilot to take you up. It’s a tough call. The entrance to Avonmouth was potentially tricky, especially if you hadn’t had a chance to look over the the river entrance on your way down. On the other hand, once you’re on the Avon there’s no drama. Provided the tide is right then it’s a straightforward cruise up a narrow river. In the end, we’re glad we didn’t have pilot for this bit – £100 more to spend on….dog treats probably!

The M5 crossing the Avon

The M5 crossing the Avon

Once we’d safely negotiated the turn then we had the leisure to look around. We were fascinated by Tate & Lyle’s dock with its huge storage sheds and vats. There’s a big Tate & Lyle facility on the tidal Thames near the barrage. It was a reminder of how sugar used to be such and exotic and luxurious commodity, travelling here all the way from the sunny carribbean. Judging by these facilities, it still does!

Then the Avon passes almost insignificantly under the mighty M5. I’m sure the drivers were oblivious to the daily drama of the tides going on beneath them. With his confidence buoyed by the fact the Indigo Dream was still afloat, Richard overtook a little motor-yacht – Jade. Their cheery crew waved us on and we briefly had the river to ourselves.

A view of the Avon

A view of the Avon

The next bit is neither one thing or another – it’s green without being particularly scenic, punctuated with little side- channels and tributaries without being especially interesting. But by this time we had some traffic on the river to keep us ‘entertained’.

It’s a long story but today there was a ‘stopgate’ tide at Bristol, which restricts the availability of the lock. This meant that a load of boats came out early and punched the tide. Some hog the wrong side of the channel where the flow is slower but the big gin palaces just commandeered the centre of the river and raced downriver. They were moving very fast and created some large waves – the river was choppy for some distance after they’d gone by. Having them go past was the worst bit of the trip, but again, no drama, we just steered the bow into the waves to minimise the rocking and got on with it.

Climbers in the Avon Gorge - I'd rather be boating!

Climbers in the Avon Gorge - I

Once the rush of boats had gone by we had the river to ourselves again. Ahead of us was the magnificent Avon Gorge with matchstick people waving down at us from the clifftops. We also spotted several rock climbers. They helped to put it all into perspective – we’d had an adventure but cruising Indigo Dream along a tidal river was still better than dangling from a bit of string off a cliff-face! The Clifton Suspension Bridge is just unbelievable!

The entrance to Bristol Docks is just after the suspension bridge – the lock is on your far left (there are three channels in front of you as you approach). The gates opened just as we approached and in we went. The lock-keepers take your ropes and slip them through mooring rings attached to chains that dangle down the lock wall. Just as well – we were in for a long wait. On a ‘stopgate tide’ you

Awesome!

Awesome!

sit in the open lock and wait for the tide to carry your up to appropriate level. This was another new concept for us. We were joined by a few other yachts and after about 45 minutes they opened the top gates and in we went to Cumberland Basin.

We had another wait here for the tide to bring us up to the level of the main floating harbour. This time it would be more than an hour so we went off to the Harbourmaster’s office to sort out our licence and mooring fees. Their office is to the right of the swingbridge past the pub and through Underfall Yard.

It must have been almost 8:30pm when the water levels in the basin finally matched those in the

Almost at the end of our journey - entrance lock at near high tide

Almost at the end of our journey - entrance lock at near high tide

harbour and they opened the gates to let us through. They also swung the bridge but that was more for the benefit of the tall-masted yachts! We were tired by now so it seemed to take ages to traverse the harbour to the visitor moorings by Peros Bridge (opposite the Arnolfini if you know Bristol). As we moored up it felt as if we’d really come full circle – it was a year ago that we’d arrived in the same spot – coming down from Bath that time though!

Photoblog:

It’s been a remarkable day and once the fog cleared we took a load of photos. Here are a few just to round off today’s blog.

Looking back towards Portishead

Looking back towards Portishead

No boundaries!

No boundaries!

We're so handsome!

We are so handsome, well Blue is

Matchstick people waving from the top of the cliff

Matchstick people waving from the top of the cliff

Looking back down the Avon Gorge

Looking back down the Avon Gorge

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